I went to an 8th grade graduation today for one of the Somali girls I have known for 8 years. I brought flowers, a card, and a chocolate cake because I know that this is probably the only graduation of hers I will see. She will be married in 2 years, I will be living 5 states away. I looked at all those 8th graders, alternately lean as a rail or padded awkwardly with fast growing developments, and tried not to feel a sense of sadness. Where are they headed? What will happen to them? They all have exotic names and enviable complexions; only a handful look like me. I screamed loud for all the kids who didn’t get applause, glowered at all the mean and pretty ones with their own personal paparazzi. It was heartbreaking. It is all just so obvious at that age.
My girl, she is the middle child in the family, just like me. Neither of us are the beauties of our families, nor are we the flamboyant, funny ones. Our good stuff lies deep, hidden in the core of a person who spends most of their days in their own skull. My girl, she transferred to this school across town 7 months ago. I shoved the flowers into her arms and took pictures of her with her mom and her sister. Not a single teacher came up to talk to her. Not a single person, other than her one Somali friend, came over to chat. I wanted to lose my head. Instead, I offered cake.
It feels cheap to say that life is awful when in fact for me it is rather lovely. But it isn’t this way for so many people and sometimes I don’t know how to process it. Am I grateful I got to go the exercise in agony that was an 8th grade graduation for a forgotten, low-income middle school in the part of Portland that has a history of racial segregation so awful it will bring tears to your eyes? I don’t know. I just knew that sitting in those bleachers, taking pictures of my girl, I knew that this is where I was supposed to be. I have been changed by all this; it is the flip side of loving your neighbors, of getting entangled in messes far more complicated than we would like our lives to be.